Saturday, July 13, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Part IV

70. Warm Springs (2005) - HBO has had a knack over the last thirteen years of creating cinematic experiences revolving around historical events. One of the their best efforts to date was the engaging 2005 television movie Warm Springs. Warm Springs tells the story of polio-stricken Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his travels to Warm Springs in Georgia, where he seeks old therapy techniques in the backcountry. The story takes place entirely in his younger days, before he became President. The film is incredibly well-written and captures the varying family dynamics, and the suffering that polio caused not only on Franklin himself, but on his entire family, particularly Eleanor. There is so much authenticity, as the writers, and director Joseph Sargent, perfectly capture not only the dyanmics and characteristics of the Roosevelt family, but also the culture, mood, and economy of the 1920's, especially in the South. This authenticity gives the film a sense of importance, as if you were watching history unfold in real time. It doesn't hurt that the cast is a top-notch group of veterans led by the wonderful Kenneth Branagh and Cynthia Nixon, as well as supporting players Kathy Bates, Jane Alexander, David Paymer, Tim Blake Nelson, and countless others. But Warm Springs is not just a good history lesson, or an acting showcase, it is also an incredibly engaging and entertaining drama that blends humor, warmth, struggle, and heartfelt emotion into a final product that is something you don't want to miss.

69. Justified (2010-2013) - For one year, when Breaking Bad was ineligible, Justified did pretty well
at the Emmys earning some big nominations including Best Actor in a Drama Series for Timothy
Olyphant and an Emmy win in the supporting actress category for the delightful and talented Margo Martindale. Since then it has fallen off of the Emmy radar, but it certaintly hasn't fallen off of my radar, or the radar of its legion of fans. When it first started out, I was skeptical of its quality. It looked like another standard cop-drama, whos western/southern feel would only mask its conventional setup for just so long. Boy was I wrong, as it seems that season in and season out, Justified only continues to get better and continues to defy any genre trappings by being one of the grittiest, most entertaining, and surprising shows on television. The characters and the dialogue are both brilliant constructed by its writers, and fully realized by its cast of talented actors, led by the charasmatic Timothy Olyphant. The storylines remain tense, full of surprises, and wonderful vehicles to unearth the relationships and the history of these characters, without falling into a serial procedure. The Television Academy may be snobby and unable to see just how brilliant this show is, they probably think it is just a bunch of hillbillies. Well, I hope that before this show is gone from the air, that its members, as well as all of you out there, put aside your bias and check this show out. You will not regret it.

68. Chappelle's Show (2003-2006) - I could see how the world of Hollywood, television, and the pressure from so many different forces could cause a man to want to leave it all behind and go a little
crazy, but damn I wish Dave Chappelle would come back to television. For two seasons, comedian Dave Chappelle gave us one of the best variety ventures in recent memory with the sketch comedy hit Chappelle's Show. Dave Chappelle always had an easy going and natural humor that served him well on the stand-up circuit, and as the loveable sidekick in his various film roles. But I don't think any of us realized the almost manic energy he could bring until this particular outing. In two quick seasons, some of his outrageously funny characters and skits, classics like the Wayne Brady skit and Rick James, have become as infamous and classic as any of the greats on shows like SNL, In Living Color, and some of the other classic sketch comedy shows. More importantly, Dave Chappelle openly embraced the politically incorrect subjects of race, and pop culture, and despite his detractors, hit the nail on the head, and embraced the controversial. His political and cultural timeliness and relevance kept the material fresh and lively, and whether you were turned off by it, or (as in my case) could not stop laughing, this show always inspired lively discussion. Unpredictable, zany, politically incorrect, and always funny, Chappelle's show was a comedy classic, and I hope he returns to the game soon.

67. Futurama (1999-2003; 2010-2013) - Futurama, like Family Guy, and others, has been cancelled and restarted, and put on hiatus, only to return, so many times it is hard to count. It looks like it is
ending again, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Even if it is cancelled, it could easily be brought back in a few years. It takes a lot for a show to keep coming back in that manner and still be creative and funny. That is a testament to the will and power of its fans, and to the humor and hilarity of Futurama. When a pizza delivery boy is thawed out after a thousand years, he experiences the new galaxy order, traveling along with an interesting cast of characters across the universe on a series of zany and exciting adventures, that not only entertain and make us laugh, but also cleverly speak to the social and political happenings of our time. Matt Groening, the mastermind behind The Simpsons, may not have quite reached the same heights on this outing, but he got pretty damn close as Futurama is one of the most clever and funny television shows on the air. Like The Simpsons before it, Futurama uses the medium of animation to creatively make a social impact in a way that so many live-action shows can never do. More importantly, these characters are so fully fleshed out, so magnificently used, you sometimes have to remind yourselves that they are cartoons. That speaks to the power and talent of Groening and his team and to the greatness that is Futurama. We may be saying farewell to our friends, which is incredibly sad. But have no fear, they can always return.

66. John Adams (2008) - Before Tom Hooper was an Academy Award winning director of a Best Picture winner and another nominee, he was an Emmy award winning television director, who was a staple on British and American stations. In 2008, he and the team at HBO took on the daunting task of adapting David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winning work John Adams. This sprawling, 751 page
epic work, packed full of historical details and amazing stories, was definitely a challenge to say the least. But Hooper and his team successfully created one of the best miniseries of all time, a stunning seven episode event, that went on to win four Golden Globe awards and a stunning thirteen Emmy awards out of 23 nominations. Not only did Hooper and his writers capture the spirit, and the historical accuracy of McCollough's book, but they also easily translated a work of nonfiction onto the small screen, and made it engaging, entertaining, and enthralling. The techincal elements were simply stunning, and rival most cinematic efforts that are released. But I think the key to the success of the show lies in the casting of Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, and Tom Wilkinson. All three of these Oscar-nominated stars won Emmy awards for their portrayals of some of history's leading figures, and the accolades were definitely deserved. They, along with the rest of their supporting cast, were simply stunning, tackled their subjects with emotion and ferocity, and completely lit up the screen. John Adams also manages to be an accessible project. You don't have to be a history buff to appreciate the historical importance, and the incredible quality of this wonderful miniseries.

65. The Walking Dead (2010-2013) - I'll have to admit, as the rest of the world became re-obsessed
with zombies and vampires over the past decade, I mostly avoided the craze, with one notable exception. The Walking Dead may not be an Emmy favorite, or may not have the snob appeal that seems to be required to be considered a "good" television show nowadays, but is a critical smash, a record-breaking ratings boon, and one of the most jaw-dropping, edge of your seat, entertaining shows on television. The first season established the Romaro-esque zombie saga extremely well, giving the show a platform to launch into a full-fledged character drama that is one of the most engaging on television. That is what makes The Walking Dead so special. This is not just another scary zombie genre piece. It separates itself by focusing more on the characters, and how the apocalypse affects their lives, than on the thrills and chills of the walking living dead. That is not to say that horror enthusiasts don't have lots of love about Walking Dead, but their tense and shocking storylines allow for a broad (considering their ratings, a very broad) audience to experience the horror genre at its finest. There is definitely a good reason why millions of Americans tune in every week to The Walking Dead. Because it is a horror genre masterpiece, a gripping television drama, and entertainment event that is a hell of a ride.

64. Doctor Who (2005-2013) - The original Doctor Who is considered a television classic, and ran for a stunning 26 seasons during its original run from 1963 to 1989. So when BBC decided to revive the series, I was definitely skeptical. But lucky for me, and lucky for audiences around the globe, this new version of Doctor Who (which is unfortunately losing its star), lives up to the height and the high bar set by its beloved predecessor. For those unfamiliar with the show, Doctor Who is the story of a
time traveling alien adventurer, surrounded by a motley crew of quirky and interesting characters. This version does an excellent job of making Doctor Who a part of the 21st Century, while still maintaining and respecting the original classic. That is always a fine balance that, let's face it, so many times is completely screwed up. Luckily, Doctor Who is an exception to the rule, and a wonderful one at that. First both David Tennant and Matt Smith brought to life The Doctor in unique ways, that while true to form, also helped separate it from its predecessor. I also personally think that the storylines this time around were much more fulfilling, allowing for the quirky cast of characters to develop, and allowing for brighter, refreshing storylines. I think that word, refreshing, is the best way to describe why this go-round of Doctor Who has been so successful. It never, for one moment, felt as if it were overplayed, dry, stale, or a waste of time. The talented cast and crew helped create a show that was a refreshing look on a familiar subject, and the results have been fantastic.

63. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2013) - On and off for thirteen years, the incredibly funny Larry
David, one of the brains behind Seinfeld, has done his own thing on the wonderfully funny, semi-autobiographic classic Curb Your Enthusiasm. Like Jerry Seinfeld before him, and Louis C.K. since, Larry David has been basically playing a version of himself (even with the same name), but don't for one minute think that it makes his show less appealing. In fact, like his predecessors and successors the results have been fantastic, as it continues to be a successful long-running show. It is also important to note that this is by no means a Seinfeld spinoff, despite the obvious connection and similarities in style and substance. Larry David has done a wonderful job of making Curb Your Enthusiasm his own. His off-brand of humor, most of which invovles complaining, is sure to turn off some viewers, but if people would give it just a bit of time, they would realize how sardonically dry, wittly skewering, and bitingly funny David's comedy is, and how awesome the whole cast of characters is week in and week out. Over its thirteen history, Curb Your Enthusiasm has received many nominations and accolades, including dozens of Emmy nominations, all of which have been deserved. It may have never won the top prize (not yet at least), but it certaintly ranks as one of the best comedies in the last decade hands down. It is also is one of the most unique and most entertaining shows to have aired in a long time.

62. Homeland (2011-2013) - I personally think that this last season of Homeland was not as good as its first, but sophomore slumps are common, and despite a small dip in quality, it has not prevented it from being one of the best television dramas on the air.  Perfectly capturing the political and global conflict climate of the last several years, Homeland is a tense political thriller that, while fiction,
exposes us to a highly probable world. The storylines seem as if they could have been ripped from the front page of the New York Times, and it is this realism that gives Homeland a hint of authenticity and helps to enhance the tension and the emotion that makes it such an engaging drama and edge of your seat thriller. The cast is also impeccable, as Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and many of the supporting cast including the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin are all on their A-game and have embraced the taut writing and direction with gusto that gives each character depth and incredible screen presence. The Emmys ate this up last year, and it is not hard to see why, as it is powerful, compelling, and highly sophisticated (and I actually mean that in a good way, not in a snobby way). And there is a good chance that it goes into this years Emmy race (we'll know Thursday just how well it does in terms of nominations), as the frontrunner to win again. That is because it is one of the best shows on television.

61. Saturday Night Live (1975-2013) - Saturday Night Live this season had one of its worst outings in memory. The loss of Kristen Wiig was a void that was hard to fill, and the writers seemed to have just run out of ideas. That being said there is still hope for SNL, as it has always recovered from weaker seasons in the past. That is because it attracts top talent, not just for its hosts, but also for its
main cast and writers, and will continue to succeed through every rough patch. Saturday Night Live is the original, and with the exception of this particular season, it has continued to have great hosts and be absolutely hilarious sketches throughout the last thirteen years. Some of these infamous sketches in this time period have become as legendary as those in the original decades, and some of the talents that have emerged include some of the most successful people in television and film today including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, and countless others. More importantly, even in its slumps, Saturday Night Live has always been an important and respected launching pad for comedians, and for comedy itself. Its fans are loyal (including this one, you better believe I will tune in again next season no matter what), its alums are highly successful, and its sketches are creative. More importantly, Saturday Night Live is considered one of the greatest television shows of all time, and over the last thirteen years, in most cases, it has lived up to the hype.

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